Thursday, December 17, 2015

Reflections

As I end my time at Morris, I find myself reflecting on the achievements we have all made, the successes I've witnessed in the last five and a half years. A few highlights:

Network upgrades
When I came to Morris in 2010, our network was outdated. We had upgraded the campus network some years prior, but mostly using discarded equipment donated from the Twin Cities campus after their upgrade. Immediately upon my arrival, we started planning for the next upgrade, and a year or so later, we partnered with the Twin Cities Office of Information Technology to do an in-place upgrade of our campus network. At a total cost of over $1.5 million, we increased speeds and improved reliability of our wired and wireless networks. Since then, we have focused our network resources to expanding our wireless network. Most recently, we expanded wireless coverage across the Library. We are currently preparing for Spooner Hall, Pine Hall, and Blakely Hall. In Spring, we will continue to expand wireless. Over the summer, we will address the on-campus apartments and other areas.
Media Collaboration Table
In higher ed IT, we need to constantly invest in new experiments, new technologies and new ways of integrating technology into teaching and learning. Last year, we invested in a new Media Collaboration Table in the Library, supporting multiple video connections. This was a successful pilot project. Over the next year, I hope Morris continues this expansion. Prior to my departure, we discussed incorporating similar technology collaboration in meeting rooms and conference rooms.
Process improvement
For a long time, I harped on the topic of "Simplify, Standardize, Automate, and Innovate." This has led us to significant gains, improving our support and backoffice services by automating processes that used to be done by hand. For example, we have implemented process automation for many reports; previously, these were generated on an ad-hoc by-request basis, and required significant person time. Instead, we created scripts and other jobs that automate the data reports; some of the reports are delivered automatically to the people who need them, others are kept in a holding area until they are needed. Recently, we have expanded on the "Simplify, Standardize, Automate, Innovate" and added the question "Why?" to our repertoire. This gives permission to our team and our customers to probe why we do things the way we do them, to take a step back and consider if we still need to do things a certain way. We may have implemented a process or a policy in the 1990s when computers and networks and storage had certain capacities, and people had other duties that limited their time. But in 2015, do we still have these limitations? By asking "Why?" we have uncovered several processes that were obsolete. We removed other obstacles and found ways to do things more efficiently. Consider this important question i your own process improvement.
Disaster recover planning
In a previous role at the Twin Cities Office of Information Technology, my responsibilities included managing the enterprise DR planning team. I applied that experience at Morris, to create our first disaster recovery plans. Our goal was to keep it simple, because most planning goes out the window anyway during an actual disaster. Automate processes as much as possible, including the architecture, to provide flexibility during outages. This may help you avoid an outage altogether. We created an application architecture diagram and swim lane diagram, and performed tabletop exercises. Now, however, most of our critical services have migrated to other providers, many to the Twin Cities campus. This offloads our DR efforts, effectively outsourcing them. So there's not much left at Morris for DR planning, although we participate in annual disaster tabletop exercises with other areas of the campus.
Strategic planning
When I arrived in 2010, I realized our campus IT strategy was years out of date. And the previous strategy was not actionable, it didn't really provide or set direction to help guide our technology efforts. So I formed an IT strategic planning group, where we developed a new IT Masterplan. The new plan identified several key campus technology strategies, including short-term actions to generate momentum towards those goals. Over time, we have maintained the IT Masterplan and maintained it via two IT input cycles: one in spring, and one in fall. We also participate in strategic planning through formal communities of practice, which help us look to the future of the University.

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